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Police will seek 'voluntary compliance' with freeze

Local law enforcement agencies say education will be the first step when dealing with violations of the state’s two-week COVID-19 “freeze,” and criminal charges would be a last resort.

If Medford police get complaints about people not following the rules, they will not take “immediate enforcement action,” according to Medford police Chief Scott Clauson. Instead, officers will focus on convincing potential violators to comply with the mandate voluntarily. Only as a “last resort” will police issue a citation or file a criminal charge.

Clauson said his officers will respond to complaints, but aren’t going to seek out violations of the governor’s mandate.

“We’re not going to be driving through neighborhoods looking for multiple cars in a driveway,” Clauson said. “I don’t have any additional resources that I can throw at this.”

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office will “follow guidelines of education” and request “voluntary compliance” of rules intended to slow the exploding growth of the pandemic in Oregon, according to a press release from the sheriff’s office.

Only “egregious or persistent issues” will be referred to the District Attorney’s office for prosecution, the release said.

According to protocols developed by the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police and the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association, the priority is to “educate and inform” the public, not arrest people.

The protocol asks police to use “good judgment and compassion.”

The protocol asks police to consider five points before and during a call about someone failing to comply with pandemic mandates: law enforcement’s constitutional limits for entering and remaining on private premises, the officer’s goal of “voluntary compliance” with the mandate, instructions for an officer to consider alternate solutions, authorization for an officer to enforce the violation without issuing a citation at the scene, and instructions only as a “last resort” for citing and releasing an individual on a Class C misdemeanor charge for noncompliance with the state’s emergency order.

One of the five bullet points instructs police to assess whether there’s “governmental interest” in enforcing the violation. The guideline reminds officers to “remember our legal authority as it relates to entering and remaining on private premises” under Article I, Section 9 of the Oregon Constitution protections against unreasonable searches or seizures.

Rather than cite people, the sheriff’s office said it will refer complaints to the Oregon Health Authority about violations prohibiting more than six people from separate households in a private residence.

The guideline asks the officer to “consider all your options.” For example, it recommends police take control of a person’s refusal to wear a mask by “maybe suggesting that the person voluntarily leave the area, if appropriate.”

Another bullet point instructs officers that they need not “take immediate enforcement action.”

“You always have the option of gathering the relevant information, completing your investigation into the alleged violation of the order, completing a police report and referring the case to the District Attorney’s office for charging considerations at a later time,” the protocol states.

As a “last resort — and only in cases where a person engages in “egregious or unsafe conduct” or repeatedly refuses to comply with the mandate — is an officer instructed to cite and a release a person for failing to follow a governor order during a state of emergency. The crime carries a maximum penalty of up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,250.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.